Sunday, January 15, 2012

Plains Indian Wars

I've long been interested in the Plains Indian Wars (PIW).   I suspect that most of that can be traced to growing up near a "battlefield" - the Beecher Island battlefield.  To a greater extent, it has been my lifelong fascination with Custer and the Little Bighorn battle.

I just finished a novel of the LBH, titled "A Road We Do Not Know" by Frederick Chiaventone.   I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and found that it gave me a few more potential insights into the battle and personalities involved.   Chiaventone (in a Pritzker Military Library broadcast) mentions that he's been part of army staff rides at the LBH, and at every turn, the officers made decisions that matched what Custer did.

I think Custer did the "best" that he could with an impossible situation.  I don't believe any of the odd and weird stories or conspiracy theories about the battle (ie Custer was a glory hound and a moron).  I think he had no real clue until too late about what he was up against, did the best he could, and was overwhelmed.  Combat isn't a wargame, and it isn't fair.   No matter the reputation, the personalities....sometimes it is just impossible to win, and the inevitable happens.

At any rate, I heartily recommend reading the novel mentioned above.   I'm also waiting for Chiaventone's treatment of the Fetterman fight to arrive.  

As a result of all this, I'm now spinning thoughts in my mind about gaming the period.   I'm thinking the Indians are the tricky thing, as they don't really have units.  More of amorphous blobs that grow, shift, slacken through an engagement.  Also - no consistent mounted or dismounted tactical dispositions - it was every man for himself, with a mix of whatever worked for the individual on the ground.   I'm thinking my Indian units will be a mix of mounted and foot figures,to visually show this.  Mounting and dismounting shouldn't really be a tactical decision of the leaders, as they wouldn't have that degree of control over the individuals anyway.   Lots of things to noodle on!

A couple of photos for inspiration.  Old Glory figures painted by Brad Thorton.

Looks like we'll be going up to the LBH battlefield this summer for a long weekend tour.  I can't wait!  We'll be driving instead of riding the motorcycles.  That avoids the scheduling issues that can arise with the unpredictable and sometimes dangerous weather (rain, thunderstorms, hail).


  1. I love LBH, been there many times, read a stack of books. I'd enjoy some good Plains Wars gaming. I have Sioux and Cavalrymen (currently mounted for skirmish play).

    Is this a non-skirmish period is the question?

    The Native Americans are certainly the trick and I agree with your comments on modeling their tendencies. There are options: variable-sized dice from moment to moment, cards that cause the forces at hand to advance/fallback/swell/dwindle...

    I love the possibilities of managing the cavalry tactics...makes me think of the tactical theories in the book "Archaeology, History, and Custer's Last Battle: The Little Big Horn Re-examined".

    The games could be made challenging to the Cavalry player(s), but could be a little frustrating for the Native American player(s) if their troops are properly modeled...but rewarding when they catch a cavalry troop at the right moment!

    There are also many "Fate and Command" options available. Just look at LBH: Good medicine, no sabres, no gatlings or artillery, split commands, some level of surprise, a big hostile camp, pack train separation.

    Brent, if you take the plunge, I can go there too.

    Big Village, be quick, bring packs!

  2. "Big village, be quick, bring packs" - was that Drew Brees that said that after the 1st quarter against the 49ers?


  3. I've long been thinking about getting some figures for LBH, but I'd go for 15mm, can't afford 25's!!

  4. Yeah, my Saints got done in. That defense has been suspect all year. It may be a "throwing league" but defense still wins championships.

    For my other team, the Broncos, looked like "Custer's Luck" ran out on them similarly to the way it did on Custer himself!

  5. I love that you are toying with doing the Plain's Indian War Brent! I'm listening to the Pritzer Broadcast with Chiaventone right now. I also ordered the book from Amazon. I'm a Plain's War fanboy. It's a great period to game. Been using Yellow Ribbon for my 15mm figs. 12-14 figure Cav Companies. I have 12. Plus a load of Indians.

    Have you read Last Stand or a Terrible Glory? Both are excellent LBH books recently released. Let me know if you are going to playtest this. i am pretty knowledgeable and have ready painted armies.


    John Leahy